First-Ever Book on Iran’s Basij, “Captive Society,” Illuminates Opaque Role of Influential Civil Militia

June 16, 2015
A comprehensive study of the largest civil militia on the planet provides new insight into one of the Iranian regime’s most powerful social control tools
While the world watches to see whether the United States and its allies can make progress on the tentative nuclear agreement with Iran, the Iranian clergy’s propaganda, surveillance and social control tool, the Basij Resistance Force, continues to suppress dissidents and spread across borders unchecked. A new book, “Captive Society,” by Saeid Golkar, visiting fellow on Iran at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, illuminates the inner workings of the ubiquitous but opaque Basij.
In this first English-language book on Iran’s civil militia, Golkar describes the group’s influence over Iranians and its methods of silencing nonconformists. The book, available through Columbia University Press and Woodrow Wilson Center Press, enables policy makers, scholars and Iran-watchers to better understand how the Basij controls Iranian society, maintains the Islamic regime and can undermine regional security and democracy in the Middle East.
“Disturbingly, Iran’s leaders use the Basij to suppress social and political opposition while distancing themselves from violent acts the Basij commits,” said Golkar. “Even in Iran, very few people understand the structure, funding and reach of the Basij.”
“While much has been written about the Revolutionary Guards, there has been a dearth of first-hand scholarly research in English on just who and what drive the Basij and how they maintain the regime’s control,” said Ambassador Ivo H. Daalder, president of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “This book will add needed transparency to what has been a cloudy understanding of the Basij.”
Golkar’s wide-ranging research evaluates official publications, propaganda and Basij-allied websites and blogs and includes informal communications, surveys and interviews with actual Basij members in Iran. Golkar’s book assesses the history, organizational structure, operating tactics, indoctrination methods and sociology of the Basij.
After the U.S.-backed Pahlavi dynasty was overthrown in favor of an Islamic republic in the 1979 Iranian revolution, the clerical establishment formed Iran’s Basij Resistance Force to help achieve internal security and citizen control. Acting as social police, the Basij recruits, indoctrinates and organizes millions of Iranians, then uses this group to silence “others” who don’t join the Basij. Iran is even seeking to export the Basij model to Syria and Iraq, where unchecked civil militias are fueling increasing violence. Other countries, including Venezuela, have adopted aspects of the model as well.
With the future of the nuclear deal — and Iran’s ambitions — still uncertain, Saeid Golkar’s “Captive Society” fills a critical void in the international community’s knowledge about the influential Basij organization and its methods of operation.
About Saeid Golkar
Saeid Golkar is a visiting fellow for Iran policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and an Adjunct professor for the Middle East and North African Studies Program at the Buffett Institute for Global Studies at Northwestern University. Previously, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. From 2004 to 2009, he was a lecturer in the department of social sciences at Azad University in Iran, where he taught undergraduate courses on the political sociology of Iran and sociology of war and military forces. Golkar received a Ph.D. from the department of political science at Tehran University in June 2008. His recent publications can be found in journals such as Middle East Journal; Armed Forces & Society; Politics, Religion & Ideology; and Middle East Policy.